This study compares the distribution of cardiovascular risk factors in different ethnic groups at high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases within general practices. A total of 430 patients (179 Dutch, 126 Turks, 50 Surinamese, 23 Moroccans, 23 Antilleans and 29 from other ethnic groups) were included in the study. Data collection consisted of questionnaires and physical and clinical examinations. 54% was female. The mean age was 53.1 (sd 9.9) years. There were important ethnic differences in the distribution of cardiovascular risk factors. Compared to the Dutch, ethnic minorities had significantly greater odds of being diabetic (OR = 3.2–19.4); but were less likely to smoke (OR = 0.10–0.53). Turkish individuals had a lower prevalence of hypercholesterolemia but were 2.4 times more likely to be obese than the Dutch. Hypertension was very common in all ethnic groups and no significant ethnic differences were found. These findings provide additional evidence of the need for tailored interventions for different ethnic groups in general practices.